Lucy Courternay and Damon L. Wakes at Hampshire Writers’ Society January 2019

Special Guest: Damon L. Wakes

A change in the programme saw a switch-up of January and February special guests. So we welcomed fellow HWS member Damon L. Wakes as our special guest for January, opening the evening with an introduction to his new release, Ten Little Astronauts – An Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery novella set on board an interstellar spacecraft.

10littleastronauts damon wakes - jan 2019

Damon explained some of the complexities with the book, the challenges he faced during both writing and publishing process and the result… so far.

One such complexity was the story being a murder mystery needed to be solvable but the nature of it being set in interstellar space impacted this. Key world-building rules needed to be considered, such as the Compton-Getting effect and applied by Damon, even if not necessarily needing to be understood by the reader.

Another undeniable challenge was the issue that most publishers don’t like novellas and they don’t like books that don’t fit into one genre.  Ten Little Astronauts being both, this was a tough sell, but Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher known for being selective, saw past these stereotypical limitations.

Damon received great support from Unbound, receiving funding for a promotional video, filmed aboard a Portsmouth submarine to create an effective setting, close to that of spaceship.  This launched his crowdfunding campaign, through which Damon was able to reach a much wider audience, with cast members of the sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf tweeting about the book.

Having overcome many challenges – including those small but impactful tasks such as continually finding new ways to promote the book throughout the year-long campaign, juggling crowdfunding with other projects and simply keeping track of who’d been contacted and supported the book – Damon had a great result; 134% funded by 260 patrons, a cover designed by MECOB who also designed Barack Obama’s UK paperback memoir and the book being sold through Waterstones and other high street shops.

Keep your eyes peeled for his upcoming launch event. All HWS members invited.

Main Speaker: Lucy Courtenay

lucy courtenay - jan 2019Like most writers, Lucy has always written but it did take a long time.  On completing her first book age 16, she eagerly sent out the 6,000 word manuscript expecting it to be snapped up. But it was 20 years later when her first book was published. But Lucy emphasised she knows that this was not wasted time: ‘Life feeds the imagination and everything was leading me to this point.’

After obtaining a degree in history and being a teacher of English, Lucy joined the publishing world, working her way up from top tea maker to senior commissioning editor. It was only then that Lucy created the story The Sleepover Club Eggstravaganza. Thanks to her work with a packager*, Lucy has had over 110 books published, under 14 different pseudonyms, including Enid Blyton. ‘Throughout my experience I learnt the importance of finishing a project. Always finish.‘

*Packagers are companies which prepare the whole book package, often series fiction. A team of editors generate ideas, develops characters, settings and plots and then collaborates with talented writers to transform their concepts into fully formed proposals for book series which are then presented to publishers. Successful examples of this which Lucy has worked on include Beast Quest, Animal Ark and Rainbow Magic. For those interested in working with packagers, visit Working Partners website for more information.

Keeping the session interactive Lucy asked people to call out the last children’s book they’d read. ‘If you want to write children’s books you must read children’s books.’ But Lucy’s tips didn’t stop there. She advised writers to tap into those feelings of childhood: lucy courtenay2 - jan 2019‘Remind yourself what it really felt like to be child. How did it feel when somebody stole that last Strawberry Starburst? Harness that feeling.’ The current Children’s Laureate Lauren Child did exactly that with her Charlie and Lola series. She didn’t have children at the time of becoming a success, but she remembered how it felt to be a child and used it.

Don’ts

  • Don’t write because you know someone who will illustrate your book. If you’re not an illustrator yourself, the publisher will know the best illustrator to pair you with.  Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler didn’t meet until the launch party of their first book together;
  • Don’t write because there’s an opportunity for merchandise. Beginners don’t get stationery;
  • Don’t write for a gap in the market. The market doesn’t know what it wants until it sees it and the process can take two years. Your gap may have missed its moment by the time your book comes out;
  • Don’t write to be the next J.K Rowling, to be rich and famous. J.K Rowling happened and caught an updraft.
  • Don’t write children’s books for training to be an author of adult books. Writing children’s books is harder than it looks and are completely different to adult reads.

Proceed with Caution

  • Don’t write to be published because your children and friends like your stories. They’re biased. But of course create stories if your children and friends’ enjoy them.
  • Don’t write because you want to teach your knowledge. But if you write stories with lesson’s in them be subtle, be pleasant, like the sun in Aesop’s Fable The North Wind and The Sun.

Do

  • Write a great idea;
  • Write if you can’t stop thinking about an idea. The constant thinking ultimately informs the story and helps it to develop.
  • Be prepared for a lot of rejection
  • Write for enjoyment if you’re not worried about getting published.

‘You must work hard. Writing is graft. Learn the craft. It’s there for you to build your own experience.’

It seems fitting to end on the quote which Lucy ended with – A Darren Shan, children’s horror author, quote: “A book is a dance. Without the reader the writer is just a lunatic twirling round things.”

Lucy’s Quiz

  1. Who is the current Children’s Laureate?
  2. What is David Walliams’ most recent release?
  3. What are the names of Harry Potter’s parents?
  4. Which illustrator was paired with Roald Dahl?
  5. There is a series of books written by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field. Name as many as you can in the series Oi____________
  6. Who are the three characters Mouse bumps into in The Gruffalo?
  7. Who is the artist for Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books?
  8. What is the name of the famous series of books by Cressida Cowell?
  9. Identity the logo (bear holding a candle)
  10. Where do authors get their ideas from?
Answers: 1.Lauren Child; 2. The Ice Monster; 3. Lily and James;  4.Quentin Blake;  5. Frog, Dog, Cat, Goat, Duck Billed Platypus; 6. Fox, Snake and Owl; 7. Liz Pichon herself;  8. How to Train Your Dragon; 9. Walker Books; 10. Everywhere! No wrong answer here because the best question is where do you get your ideas from.

 

Event images by Alex Carter, Lexica Films

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